Excerpts from Appendix to William Holder's

The elements of speech

P. 131-

I shall now in the plainest manner I can, lay down such directions and rules, as I myself have made trial of, to instruct a deaf person to make use of his organs of speech, and cease to be dumb, enjoying the great felicity of that most expedite way of communication: which may serve, till some more able person shall be excited, by improvements and additions, to give a greater perfection to this design.

First make your own alphabet according to the number of letters and their natural order. In respect of easiness, consonants first (because their appulses are manifest) and then vowels; and in ordering consonants respect chiefly either their sound, organ, degree of appulse.

The last of these I take to be must the best order, in which to teach a deaf person. Then add the vowels, but so accurate a distinction will not be necessary. The through-understanding of the nature of this alphabet, will direct you, what and how many are the articulations of letters, which may be represented to the eye; and what are the other differences of letters, that you may invent some other artifices, besides visible representation, to make a deaf person learn and apprehend them. This alphabet must be your own clew to guide you; but the deaf person is not to be troubled with it, because he is also to learn to write and read as others do; and therefore must be taught the common Alphabet of that language, which he is to learn, and must use those incongruous compositions, and other anomalies of vulgar writing; in which you must understand how to manage him, by reduction of them to the true alphabet of nature; in which practice you will (to your cost) discover the inconvenience of faulty alphabets and usages of writing.

Let him first learn to write after a copy of all the letters in the vulgar alphabet, will his eye be well acquainted with their figures, and he be able to write them pretty well. When you begin to teach hi to speak you may use this method. Write down in a paper p and b; and make signs to him to endeavor to pronounce, and guide him by shewing him the motion of your own lips, to offer at one of those letters: which being the easiest of all, he will with a little endeavor stumble upon one of them. Shew him upon the paper the letter, which he hits upon, and much applauding and encouraging him, make him repeat it often, till he be very perfect both in the production and in the written character of that letter: Suppose it was P. Then next point at b and direct him with the same motion of his lips to pronounce it. With long trying he perceiving, that you require him to make different letter with the same figure of the mouth, will at last find out how to do it, and utter something different from p, which will be b, though he understand not, wherein the difference lies, but finds it out; and being excluded from p, and laboring to pronounce another letter with the same figure of his lips, make hi perfect in b. And let him diligently practice these two letters, pointing sometimes at one, sometimes at the other in the paper, till he be perfect in both.

Next shew him the posture of the end of the tongue close to the gums, and he will without much difficulty be brought to pronounce either t or else d. Use the same method as before, and which soever he speaks, shew it him written, and having the other also written in the paper, shew him that, after he has con’d the first, and require it of him, still keeping the same posture of the mouth: which having obtained of him, make him perfect in them both, before you carry him further. Next teach him in like manner k and g calling them ka and ga; but to shew him the posture of these, you had need provide a palate with the upper jaw, of plaster, and the shape of the tongue of stuffed leather, which will be useful to you to describe to him, how the boss of the tongue in these letters is born close in the inner part of the palate near the throat; and more useful, when you would describe the vowels; but yet both may be done without it. If you find him stick at this letter, put your finger to the outside of his throat,whilst he is offering to pronounce, and check his breath there, and he will soon perceive what he is to do, and can scarce choose but spek k. When he has got one of these letters perfect, gain the other by the same way of exclusion, as before.

Having thus gained of the occluse consonants, three orespirtal, p.t.k. and three ore-vocal, b.d.g; there remain three naso-vocal, m.n.ng which will be most easily learned by the same way of exclusion, requiring him to pronounce a labial letter, that is, neither p. nor b. and pointint to his nose, to breath that way, he will soon pronounce m. and in like manner n and ng.

The dental consonants are very easy, therefore let them be the next, and first the labiodentals, f, v, which , as also the linguadentals, th,dh, he will soon learn by the method before directed; though dh may be let alone, being never written so in our language. But since a consonant, or at least some of the consonants, cannot well be pronounced alone, without a vowel joined to them, it may be considered here, whether in naming the consonants, it is better that the vowel go before or follow it? and what vowel? In our vulgar alphabet, it is observable, that in all occluse consonants, except the nasals, the vowel follows, as be, ce, de, ge, ka, pe,qu, te; but in the pervious consonants, and the nasals, because they have passage through the nose, the vowel precedes; as ef, el, em, en, er, es; only z hath something peculiar; and in that it is accounted as a double letter (which it is not in the natural alphabet, any more than s,)we may imagine it to have been anciently pronounced, as it is now by the Italians, ds or ts; and so to be called zad from the Hebrew Tsade; but yet to make out my observation, we, who pronounce it as a single letter do so as often call it yzard.

(this continues through the rest of the consonants and vowels)—pp. 140-151

p. 151

Having thus made him learn the alphabet and the characters of it, next (or together with the other) teach him an alphabet upon his fingers, or several parts of his hand, by placing the letters there, which you may devise at pleasure: for example; making the joints of his fingers of his left hand both on the inside, and also on the outside, to signify some letter, when any of them is pointed at by the forefinger of the right hand, or by anyt kind of fescue. Particularly, let the extremity of the thumb and four fingers of the left hand signify aeiou. The middle of the insides of them beginning at the thumb bcdfg. The bending of the fingers on the inside next the hand h,, k.,l, m. n. The back-side joints below the nails, p. q. r, s,t. The middle joints v wjyz; any where towards the wrist, or crossing the two forefingers x. And for those simple letters which are used in writing to be expressed by compositions, as th, sh, ng, etc. there is no heop for it, but he must be taught accordingly to comply with that faulty way of writing, which they call orthography, and be directed to describe them so, and write them so too, but that he may understand what others write, and they, what he. You may draw two portraitures, one of the inside, the other of the backside of the hand, and describe the letters upon the places respectively, this way, or some other, that you shall think better, and make him perfect in this finger-language. And then you will find a great pleasure and ease, by practicing with him that way, readily at all times to pronounce what words you describe with your fingers,, and often exercise his pen to write down what you dictate to him; letting him know, when word is finished, to leave some space between that word and the next word. And when you would gratify the curiosity of others, who shall desire to hear him speak, this way will be most useful and ready. And you may, when you please, have a recreation of surprising those with admiration, who shall hear the deaf person pronounce whatsoever they (though with privacy) shall desire, without your seeming at all to guide him with your eye or mouth, otherwise than by beckoning him to speak, whilst you secretly describe with your fingers.

The next thing you are to do, is to write down (and it would do well, in a pocket-paper-book, to be ready at hand) all kinds of syllables and practice him to pronounce them. first syllables of two letters, …and all these backwards …. And when you have made him perfect at syllables, then you may reckon, that you have taught him all pronunciation of language, since all words are only some of these syllables, or else syllables compounded of these, as strand, stra, and; or else being polysyllables, are but a joining of more of these syllables,, which is nothing else but pronouncing these syllables one after another, making a distinction between every word.

Next, you are to teach him the knowledge of words, (but iswould do well in the meantime to make him speak and write some sentences, to inure him t connextion of speech.) And here you may easily shew him visible bodies and colors, and tell him the names of them, and you may by signs make him understand local adverbs, and some others of qualities, well ill, etc, as also such adjectives, as represent sensible qualities, as bitter, sweet and many other kinds. Every passage wil give some occasion to make him understand more of the particles and bands of speech.

I had once in my thoughts to contrive a method of grammar, and dictionary for this use. Of grammar, more than I can now comprise in short hints. And the later, alphabetically containing the words of the language, which the deaf person is to learn; as suppose, English. And the exposition, being a representation of the figure of so many words, as can be described, and of the rest by such other signs, as might be thought of, referring the synonyma’s to thos, which have expositions; by which he might help himself to know the meaning of such words as he should meet with and by often looking on it, gain the knowledge of words: But the occasion of exciting and exercising my thoughts being unhappily removed, I went no further; but hope to see them perfected by those, who shall meet with such like occasions. And indeed, such a work, as this, is not to be perfected by study alone; but must and will receive many hints and helps, and to be thought on otherwise, whilst the endeavor is excited, being under experiment and practice. But so far as I had occasion to study, and practice with happy success, I have faithfully imparted, and wish, it may be useful to those who stand in need of it.

p. 159-168: An experiment concerning deafness causes by want of due tension of the membrane in the ear called the tympanum.

A young gentleman known to divers of the R. Society, was born Deaf, and continued Dumb till his age of 10 or 11 years. His mother when she was great with him, received a sudeden fright; by occasion whereof, the childs head and face were a little distorted, the whole right side (As I remember) being somewhat elevated, and the left depressed; so that the passage of his left ear was quite shut up, and that of the right ear proportionally distended, and too open. This geneltman being for some time recommended to my care, amongst other things, I spent some thoughts in searching the cause of his deafness in the ear, whose passage was oopen. And having found, that the auditory nerve was not perished, but that he could hear the sound of a lute-string, holding one end thereof in his teeth; and had some perception of any very vehement sound, I supposed the defect to lie in the want of due tension of the tympanum of his ear, whose use I took to be, only to preserve the auditory nerve, and brain, and inwards parts of the ear from outward injury by cold, dust, etc. and to be no more to hearing, that glass in the window is in a room to seeing, i.e., ad the one intromits light without cole or offence to those in the room: so the other mermits found to pass, and shuts out what else might offend the organ; as appears in the experiment of breaking the tympanum of a dog, who hears never the worse for some few weeks, till other causes, as cold, etc. vitiate the organ.

But for the free passage of the sound into the ear, it is requisite, that the tympanum be tense and hard stretched: otherwise the laxness of the membrane will certainly dead and damp the sound, and because the tympanum is fixed in the circumference thereof to the annulus osseus, and so is not capable of tension that way, in such manner as a drum is braced; there remains another way, by drawing it at the center into a conoid form. And that is the principal office of the three ossicles, viz, the malleus, incus, and stapes, of which the stapes is fixed to the inner bone in the foramen ovale; the malleus in the extremity of that process thereof, which is more direct (though somewhat bowing) lies along fixed to the tympanum; and on the other end is joined to the incus by a double or ginglymoid joint; such as in which the upper and lower double teeth met one another. The incus, scituate between the two former, is one way joined to the malleus, by such a joint as last mentioned; the other end being a process, is fixed with a ligament to the stapes. In the ospetrosum is situated a muscle from which a tendon is fixed to the end of another more perpendicular process of the malleus (some describe two tendons from the same muscle, one fastened to the aforesaid process, the other to the neck of the malleus) which drawing the malleus inwards, the joined ends of that bone, and the incus receding, make a more acute angle at that joint, and give a greater curvity to the posture of the said three ossicles; the ligament which fastens the incus to the stapes (which is fixed to an immovable bone) complying with the recess of the other end, sideways at the joint; and the malleus being fixed to an extensible membrane, follows the traction of the muscle, and is drawn inwards to bring the terms of that line (which the new posture of the bones makes) nearer, in proportion as it is curved, and so gives a tension to the tympanum by drawing after it the center of the tympanum, and so stretching the surface of it, from a plain to conoid figure within the same circumference.

And I conceive, the action of this muscle does ordinarily and constantly draw the tympanum to a moderate tension; but when we have occasion to listen, and give a more particular attention to some sound, the action of that muscle is then more intense, and the tympanum is drawn to a more then ordinary tension, so to facilitate the passage of the sound.

Now as the case of the young gentleman before mentioned, I supposed either the muscle by that convulsive starting motion in the womb to be overstrained, and to have lost its action; or the membrane by the greater aperture of the organ to be overstretched, and afterwards to remain so flaccid, that it was beyond the activity of the muscle and curvature of the ossicles to give it a due tension; or peradventure there was a concurrence of both causes. Which due tension, if by any remedy it might be restored, I assumed that he might recover his hearing in that ear: to which end I advised that excellent lady his mother, to consult with learned physicians, if by some adstringement fumes, or otherwise he might find help.

And for experiment, I thought of a temporary way by the impulse of any vehement sound; as of a drum beaten near him: which sound,, during its continuance, must needs given the tympanum a tension, by driving and swelling it inwards, as a fresh gale of wind fills the sails of a ship; and the experiment succeeded according to my expectation: for so long as I beat a drum fast and loud by him, he could hear those who stood behind him, calling him gently by his name (which he understood, having learned to speak and pronounce it among other words;) and when the drum ceased, he did not hear the same persons, when they again very loud called him by his name. And by this we tried several times, by beating of the drum again, and ceasing it, and he still heard them, when the drum beat, and heard them not, when it stopped.

Since that time, A gentleman about Oxford-shire, sometimes student in Christ Church, being in a great degree of deafness, after I had told him of this experiment, called to mind, that he never heard so well and easily, as when he was discoursing with company in a coach, whilst it went fast, and made a great rumbling noise in London streets: by which he was induced to believe, that the impediment of his hearing was of the like nature with the other.

And the same time when this was read before the R. Society, a person of quality of the society remembered to have found in himself, (being at sometimes subject to thickness of hearing) the like effect with this last mentioned, though he had not before considered the reason of it; his acquaintance having often observed to him, that such times of his deafness he heard them very well, whilst they talked together in a coach in the paved streets.


Holder, William (1669). The elements of speech, an essay of inquiry into the natural production of letters: with an appendix concerning persons deaf and dumb. London: John Martyn